Elephants and mammoths are closely related animals belonging to the same order: Elephants, which belong to a larger group called Proboscidae. Of the three families in this order, the Asian elephant, the African elephant, and the mammoth, only the elephant family is alive today. So, what’s the difference that separates an elephant from a mammoth?
Both animals are close relatives. While most people think elephants are descended from mammoths, they are actually cousins rather than descendants. Elephants and mammoths are both docile herbivores with a long history of human interaction. Although male elephants sometimes fight over dominance, breeding rights, and territory, they are generally peaceful animals. Mammoths likely used their tusks in a similar way, and they behaved similarly. In this article, we’ll discuss all the differences between elephants and mammoths, including why elephants survived while mammoths became extinct.
Comparing Elephants and Mammoths
Elephants and mammoths seem to be very similar creatures, even descended from the same ancestor a long time ago! They do, however, differ markedly — largely due to differences in the way mammoths adapted to colder environments. Before we dive in, let’s talk about the types of elephants alive today.
African elephant: African elephants have large ears to help them dissipate heat, two snout extensions for grasping, and a sloping back. There are two types of African elephants, the larger African jungle elephants live in savannas, and the smaller African forest elephants live in dense forest environments.
Asian elephant: Which elephant was most closely related to the woolly mammoth is still being debated, but many believe it may have been the Asian elephant. These elephants have small ears, a rounded back, and only one trunk extension. Female Asiatics have no tusks. Asia is like an endangered species.
There are many mammoth species, including woolly mammoth, pygmy mammoth, and steppe mammoth. All of these species are now extinct.
|Habitat||Africa, Asia||North America, Asia, Europe|
|Body||round or receding||hunchback|
|fangs||Shorter tusks have 1-2 extensions; only male Asiatics have tusks||tusk with two extensions; both sexes have tusks|
|ear||Asian elephants have smaller ears while African elephants have larger ears||Small ears|
|fur||small fur||thick fur, sometimes with a double coat|
5 Key Differences Between Mammoths and Elephants
1. The mammoth is extinct
The main difference between these species is that only one is alive. The mammoth became extinct about 4,000 years ago, thanks in large part to rapid climate change and hunting by humans across the globe. Mammoths adapted to the climate of the Ice Age, and as the world warmed and their habitat decreased, they became extinct.
Today, elephants and many other species face the same risk of extinction: climate warming and human stress. This pressure comes from hunting and the loss of the habitat on which elephants depend.
Although all species of elephants are threatened, elephants are still alive today. The Asian elephant is on the endangered species list, while the African bush elephant is endangered, and the African forest elephant is now critically endangered.
It is very important to keep the remaining elephants alive today, otherwise the entire fauna will be wiped from our planet forever.
2. Mammoths had bigger tusks
Mammoths are heavier than elephants and have much longer tusks. Their tusks are more curved and twisted than tusks and can grow up to 16 feet long. By comparison, the longest tusk ever recorded measured 11 feet 7 inches.
Another important variation exists only in Asian statues: females have no tusks at all. Mammoths, like African elephants, have tusks in both sexes. They are mainly used for defense, but males also use them in sparring.
Speaking of their trunks, both African elephants and mammoths have (or used to have) two extensions at the end of their trunks, which are (or were) used for grasping. There is only one Asian statue. These graspable extensions are sensitive enough to develop fine motor skills. Elephants use these extensions in the same way humans use their hands.
3. Mammoths have thick fur
If you’ve ever seen an elephant, you know that their hair is thin, short and thick — they might even appear to have no fur at all. You can’t say that about a mammoth. They have thick fur to adapt to the cold environment. Some of them even put on double coats to keep them warm in the harsh winter. These thick coats allowed mammoths to live in very cold regions and thrive where their cousins would have been frozen. Those same thick coats, however, meant they couldn’t handle temperatures that got hotter as the climate warmed.
4. Their habitats are different
Mammoths and elephants are descendants of the same animal. However, at some point in history, mammoths evolved to travel outside the warmer climates of Africa, Asia, and Europe. While elephants stayed in these environments, mammoths traveled as far as North America!
Over time, mammoths adapted to colder climates, so they were able to spread over wider areas than elephants once managed. Mammoths were also larger than elephants, which would have forced them to travel a larger area in search of adequate food. It takes a lot of food to keep a mammoth happy!
5. They have different body types
Mammoths have humps on their backs near the shoulders, but elephants do not. Asian elephants have rounder backs, while African elephants have backs that slope down the middle.
The foreheads of mammoths and Asian elephants are also more distinctive. They both have a distinctly domed forehead, whereas the African elephant’s forehead slopes straight down into the torso. African elephants have a less obvious dividing structure between their head and trunk. The forehead of the mammoth is larger than that of any kind of elephant, and it is dome-shaped.
Finally, African elephants have longer ears than Asian elephants or mammoths. These large ears help with dissipation, keeping the animal cool on hot days. They also use their large, flexible ears to keep documents away from their faces. Asian elephants have smaller, rounder ears. Mammoths have the smallest ears of any animal because larger ears are at risk of frostbite in cold weather and use excess body heat to keep warm.
Elephants and mammoths are both descended from the same ancestor. They diverged into different species as they tried to adapt to changing environments. Some of these variations work better than others.
|1.||Extinction = failure to adapt||alive = successfully adapted|
|2.||Larger, curvier tusks||Shorter, thicker tusks|
|3.||cold weather padded jacket||Coats are rarely worn in hot climates|
|4.||Cold Grassland Habitat||hot plains or jungle|
|5.||Bigger and heavier for better cold resistance||Small size and heat dissipation|
I am broadly interested in how human activities influence the ability of wildlife to persist in the modified environments that we create.
Specifically, my research investigates how the configuration and composition of landscapes influence the movement and population dynamics of forest birds. Both natural and human-derived fragmenting of habitat can influence where birds settle, how they access the resources they need to survive and reproduce, and these factors in turn affect population demographics. Most recently, I have been studying the ability of individuals to move through and utilize forested areas which have been modified through timber harvest as they seek out resources for the breeding and postfledging phases. As well I am working in collaboration with Parks Canada scientists to examine in the influence of high density moose populations on forest bird communities in Gros Morne National Park. Many of my projects are conducted in collaboration or consultation with representatives of industry and government agencies, seeking to improve the management and sustainability of natural resource extraction.
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